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Opening up of Naga Universe – A talk by Easterine Kire at USTM

Stereotypization of North East by the national media must be stopped – Dr. Kire

February 14th, 2018, USTM, Ri Bhoi : The students of the Department of English, USTM were all agog to listen to Dr. Easterine Kire, the world acclaimed writer, novelist & story teller when she was invited today at USTM to give a lecture on ‘Literature and Representation – Opening up of Naga Universe’. While being introduced both by Dr. Pranami Bhattacharya, HoD and Md. Shalim Muktadir Hussain, Asst. Professor, Dept. of English, she was referred as a literary icon of Nagas as her writings appear as a threshold, opening up the world of Nagas to a wide spectrum of readers for whom Nagas are still as mystic as denizens of another world. Dr. R K Sharma, VC in Charge and Dr. Alaka Sarma, Pro VC in Charge, both reiterated that isolation is no longer expected at this age of globalization and technological transformation and ‘hence literature of North East needs to be circulated, read and received by a wide audience at the national and international circuit and that perhaps may change the perception of North East’- Dr. Alaka Sarma stated on the occasion. Dr. Dayanand Pathak, former professor, Gauhati University asserted that Kohima Sahitya Sabha existed well before the inception of Assam Sahitya Sabha in the year 1917 and therefore Naga literature was very strong even before Assamese literature took shape.

Dr. Easterine Kire started her lecture with an assertion that there is no conflict between Assamese literature and Nagamese literature, rather both are interdependent and lot of Assamese literature had dwelt upon Naga myths, folktales and referred the story of Joymoti which was adopted by the writer Padmanath Gohain Baruah, the founder president of Asom Sahitya Sabha. She then went on narrating how she was influenced by the oral story telling tradition of Naga which is very much akin to African literary tradition, specifically how she owed inspiration from Nigerian writers like Chinua Achebe, Nadine Gordimer. Urged by a dire need to establish Nagamese written literature and to convert the oral tradition of narratives into written literature, Dr. Kire took up the task of reversing the stereotyped perception of North East that prevailed in the Indian literary circuit, the image of strife-ridden North East. Thus came the first novel A Naga Village Remembered in 2003 followed by A Terrible Matriarchy and then Mari, Bitter Wormwood, When the River Sleeps. ‘I deliberately chose all my narratives to be portrayed in the war perspective to some extent and my characters are sculpted in times of war – World War II, Japanese Invasion in Kohima, war during British Colonial regime, post-Independence war when Nagas refused to be annexed within India and thus a chronology of political upheavals in Nagaland were depicted. However, my novels offer a wide range of perspectives, history, culture, social problems, political conflict, mysticism, Naga spirituality. Mentioning Bitter Wormwood, she explained that although the book was not taken in a good spirit by a section of readers as non –Naga readers are perhaps not ready to accept one fraction of reality, in the book, I have tried to say that the people caught in the conflict were important, that their lives mattered. This is why the book centres around two families on either side and on the friendship that springs up in the third generation. The book has put forward the idea that a political problem can have a human solution’. While reading one excerpt from When the River Sleeps, she explained “ It begins as a physical quest for a stone that is rumoured to possess spiritual qualities. But for those who have not grown up in the culture in which the book is grounded, allegory will help the book yield meaning. But I think, even without allegory, it is simple enough for readers to understand that this is a book whose theme is about the importance of the spiritual over the material’.

The discussion was followed by an interaction with the students where different aspects of NE literature were analysed and it was asserted that National Media must stop stereotyping the image of North East and for that insiders like me have a great role to play to change the perception. Also she stated “scenario is changing gradually however, as more and more symposium, literary discourses are being hosted outside North East where poets, writers, litterateurs across all states share a common platform and such exchange of ideas would definitely contain stereotypization of North East”.

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